The wheel deal

At some of the Klang Val­ley’s bi­cy­cle cafes, you’ll find both food and peo­ple with plenty of soul.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Taste - By SUZANNE LAZAROO star2@thes­tar.com.my

THE love for the open road, the feel­ing of self-de­ter­mi­na­tion, the wind in their hair (metaphor­i­cally, be­cause: hel­mets), be­ing bonded to other peo­ple by a com­mon love – am­a­teur or pro, long-haul trav­ellers or week­end war­riors, peo­ple who love bi­cy­cles are of­ten bound to­gether by many threads.

“And I tell you: food,” says Joey Koo, chef and co-owner of The Bike Hub Cafe in Subang Jaya. “Cy­clists love to eat and drink! Whether it’s a cup of good cof­fee be­fore the start of a ride, or a meal af­ter we fin­ish.”

It’s lit­tle won­der that a slow bur­geon­ing of bi­cy­cle cafes can be seen in many states – although most are con­cen­trated in the Klang Val­ley, Me­laka has Ter­mi­nal B Cafe, there’s Cy­clez Cafe in Muar, Johor, and Arnold Cy­cling Cafe is pretty well-es­tab­lished in But­ter­worth, Pe­nang.

Cy­clist cafes are very in­di­vid­ual crea­tures none­the­less – some dou­ble as bike shops, or as re­pair and main­te­nance hubs, while oth­ers were cre­ated solely to act as hubs for the like-minded. Here are three places with as much heart for the sport as they have for good food.

Wan­der­ing down a back­lane of Jalan Bangsar, you may come across a non­cha­lant, painted mon­key, ly­ing Cleopa­tra style across an also-painted bi­cy­cle; your eye, then drawn up, to the weath­ered con­crete zig­gu­rat ris­ing above and be­yond it.

And you’ve found The Basikal.

A tes­ta­ment to home and fam­ily, and mak­ing things from scratch – whether that is the spice paste for an asam laksa, or a cus­tom-made tour­ing bike, or the bones and flesh of a rooftop cafe – The Basikal is where Ak­mal Az­far and his fam­ily re­alise their love of bi­cy­cles (and each other).

Climb the (very) nar­row stone stair­case to the first floor, and you’re on the level of Ak­mal’s work­shop; around the cor­ner, The Basikal has a small guest­house (Tido@The Basikal), just three rooms usu­ally rented out to trav­ellers who want to see the world on quadri­cep-pow­ered wheels.

“Util­ity bikes are our spe­cial­ity, like com­mute or cus­tom-made tour­ing bikes, so when trav­ellers seek us out for main­te­nance, they of­ten stay there,” says Ak­mal, 29. He is, how­ever, also at home with road and moun­tain bikes, and even re­cum­bent bikes.

One floor up, and you’re on the roof, where steel and wood meet to form a semi-open cafe; bi­cy­cle wheels hang sus­pended and form a faux roof in one sec­tion, and a bi­cy­cle sits perched on the low ledge over­look­ing Jalan Bangsar be­low, the LRT track above and pas­tel-painted flats be­yond it.

It was all built by Ak­mal, his fam­ily and vol­un­teers. “My fa­ther is a ‘MacGyver’, so he used his su­per weld­ing skills to build this!” says Ak­mal. “We even built the lift for the bikes.”

(Be­cause there’s no way they’re get­ting up that stair­case).

This is where Ak­mal’s mother, Salmah Vi­ran, 57, and his sis­ter, Azyan Fairuz, 27, will take you in and feed you on homey, whole­some stuff like asam laksa and, more un­usual in KL, laksa Tereng­ganu (RM6 each). The lat­ter is both rich and sim­ple, a co­conut milk gravy with shred­ded fish, lib­er­ally fra­granced with black pep­per.

“And def­i­nitely no MSG!” says Salmah. The menu is small, the favourites in Salmah’s culi­nary reper­toire, and avail­able from 5pm.

“I first moved here from my orig­i­nal bike cen­tre in Univer­siti Pu­tra Malaysia in 2015, rent­ing the room down­stairs as my work­shop,” says Ak­mal. The roof was an empty space; Makan@TheBasikal be­came an op­tion in late 2016.

“When I thought of open­ing a cafe up here, I also thought of get­ting a chef, do­ing cafe­type food. But my mum has al­ways been a good cook, and so I de­cided on this kind of home-cooked food in­stead – the kind I grew up with.”

Sep­a­rated from the cafe by a long wooden ta­ble bank, Ak­mal has set aside an­other space for the bi­cy­cle re­pair work­shops that are the real ob­ject of his zeal.

“I did sell bikes for a while, but teach­ing is my true pas­sion,” he says. He wants to use these work­shops to em­power the un­der­priv­i­leged; with the help of a grant from the AirAsia Foun­da­tion, he con­ducts cer­ti­fied Park Tool School, Know One Teach One work­shops, to pass on the skills and knowl­edge for bi­cy­cle re­pair.

“I want to set up a door-to-door re­pair ser­vice – like Uber, but you can just get some­one to come over to your house to con­duct re­pairs,” he says. “This will help to grow cy­cling cul­ture, be­cause I know a lot of peo­ple who find it too in­con­ve­nient to trans­port their bikes for re­pair and main­te­nance.

“I think many of us love cy­cling as kids, and then as we grow up, we for­get our bikes. As adults, we fo­cus on mak­ing money. But when we have enough money, we think of look­ing for hap­pi­ness – and that search of­ten leads back to cy­cling.”

As the Happy to Cy­cle Club grew from 10 mem­bers to al­most 200, firm friend­ships were formed. But what was lack­ing, as some mem­bers of the Subang Jaya-based club re­alised, was a place to meet and min­gle, to re­lax and wind down af­ter rides – and yes, to eat.

And so the hunt for a per­fect spot en­sued – which ended when they found the space at the 3K sports com­plex in SS13 and opened the ca

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Be-spoked at Makan@The Basikal, a hid­den gem in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. — FAIHAN GHANI/The Star.

Makan@The Basikal’s laksa Tereng­ganu with home-made sam­bal; in the fore­ground, a tangy asam laksa. — FAIHAN GHANI/The Star

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